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Iran could reach break out capacity in weeks

By Missing Peace

Iranian nuclear weapon

In this report the latest developments in the Iranian nuclear crisis:

  • Top diplomats are warning that Iran could break out to a nuclear bomb in weeks
  • Israel continues to pressure the West not to lift any sanctions
  • A new alliance is emerging in the Middle East as a result of the Iranian ‘charm offensive’ and its impact on the West.
  • Obama administration is seeking pause on new sanctions against Iran
  • Repression in Iran increased since Rouhani entered office

 

Top diplomats are warning that Iran could break out to a nuclear bomb in weeks

 

Top diplomats are warning that Iran is capable of purifying its stockpile of 3.5% low enriched uranium to 90% weapons grade levels in a matter of weeks, underscoring the complications involved in trying to sufficiently check the country’s advanced nuclear program so as to render Tehran incapable of sneaking across the nuclear finish line.

Meanwhile an Iranian MP confirmed that nothing has changed in the uranium enrichment process since the renewed talks in Geneva.  MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi said Iran is continuing the
enrichment of uranium to the 20-percent purity level.

Iran has spent much of the last year installing more, and more sophisticated, centrifuges in its nuclear enrichment facilities, and the U.S.-based ISIS think tank has recently estimated that Iran will be able to purify enough uranium, at a sufficient pace, to conduct an undetectable breakout by the middle of next year.

The Israel Project held a conference call on the issue this morning with Dr. Olli Heinonen, a former Deputy Director of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and currently a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Evaluating Iran’s newly installed centrifuges, Heinonen revised the ISIS estimate, declaring that “if certain arrangements are done, [the breakout time] can even go down to two weeks.” Heinonen separately emphasized that Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched material, which is farther away from weapons grade levels than its 20% enriched material, nonetheless still puts the regime more than half way toward what “you need to do in order to produce weapons-grade uranium.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Sunday outlined how Iran’s “technological improvements” now allow Tehran “to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to 90 percent in a number of weeks.” Netanyahu’s assessment echoes that of U.S.-based analysts, and officials from ISIS have said as much to Congress. 

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu continues to warn the West not to lift sanctions as long as Iran continues with its nuclear weapon program.

During the latest Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem Netanyahu stated the following:

“Regarding Iran, we are not impressed by the discussion surrounding the issue of 20% enrichment. The Iranians are intentionally focusing the discussion on this issue. It is without importance. Its importance is superfluous as a result of the improvements the Iranians have made in the past year which allow them to jump over the barrier of 20% enrichment and proceed directly from 3.5% enrichment to 90% within weeks, weeks at most.

Therefore, there is no significance to the discussion about 20%, which Iran seemingly will not give in on. It is willing to give in on this. It has no importance; it is a tactical move. In effect, Iran, which has violated all Security Council decisions on preventing it from enrichment at any level, has no right to enrich. This enrichment has only one purpose, not for nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but producing nuclear weapons. Thus it is with its heavy water reactor. It has no connection with energy for peace but only for nuclear weapons.

And therefore, the clear position that I outlined there during and after the discussions, and to the media, which we are presenting around the world is that Iran must dismantle its enrichment ability and its heavy water reactor as part of the process of preventing it from achieving nuclear weapons.

We think that this must be insisted upon. Pressure must be increased because it is continuing to enrich during the negotiations. And because it is continuing to enrich, sanctions must be increased. Iran with nuclear weapons will change the Middle East and the world for the worse. This is something that all countries which seek peace and stability must oppose. Very many of them oppose this”.

Middle East expert Jonathan Spyer about a new emerging alliance: Israel and the Gulf states

Recent remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have fueled renewed speculation of behind-the-scenes links between Israel and the Gulf monarchies.

Netanyahu, speaking at the UN, said that “the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the emergence of other threats in our region have led many of our Arab neighbors to recognize, finally recognize, that Israel is not their enemy.”

He added: “This affords us the opportunity to overcome the historic animosities and build new relationships, new friendships, new hopes.”

There have been subsequent rumors of visits by senior Gulf officials to Israel, to discuss matters of common interest.

While it is difficult to acquire details of these contacts at the present time, it is a near certainty that they exist, on one level or another. Conversations with Israeli officials suggest that much is happening behind the scenes.

Israel and the key states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (most importantly, Saudi Arabia) share core views on the nature of key regional processes currently underway, and their desired outcome. These commonalities have existed for some time, and it is likely that the contacts are themselves not all that new.

There are three areas in which Israel and the countries of the GCC (with the exception of Qatar) are on the same page.

They are: the urgency of the threat represented by the prospect of a nuclear Iran, the danger represented by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood over the last two years, and the perception that the United States fails to understand the urgency of these threats and, as a result, is acting in a naive and erroneous way on both.

On the Iranian nuclear issue, Riyadh is deeply troubled by the current Iranian ‘charm offensive’ and its apparent effects on the west. Most importantly, the Saudis fear the prospect of a nuclear Iran, which could force Riyadh and the Gulf states to bend to its will, in return for guaranteeing the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz, and avoiding direct encroachment on their sources of energy.

Saudi Arabia faces Iran, directly across the Gulf. It is a far more fragile construction than its Shia, Persian neighbor. Over the decades, Riyadh and the other Gulf states sought to balance Iranian encroachment of this type through alliance with the U.S.

But the U.S. no longer seems such a reliable ally. So new strong and like-minded friends are needed.

On the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudis feared the spread of this movement across the region, and were infuriated by the role of Qatar in supporting its successes in recent years.

Israel, too, was deeply concerned at the prospect of a new alliance of Sunni Islamist states, with AKP-led Turkey and Morsi’s Egypt chief among them.

Over the past year, the advance of the Muslim Brothers has been halted and partially reversed. In Tunisia and Egypt, the MB administrations have gone. Qatar has a new, less activist emir. The Muslim Brothers and Qatar have grown weaker among the Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia has been responsible for some of this, through financial support and political action. It has welcomed all of it. So has Israel.

On the U.S.: the Saudis think that the current U.S. administration is hopelessly naive on the Middle East. They were shocked at the abandonment of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011. They are equally vexed at the current indications of American and Western willingness to lift some sanctions against Iran in return for cosmetic concessions that would leave the core of Teheran’s nuclear program intact.

The Saudis were the first to congratulate General Abd al-Fatah al Sissi following his military coup in early July. They are utterly dismayed by the current U.S. withholding of part of Washington’s package of military aid to Cairo because of what the U.S. regards as the insufficiently speedy transition back to elections in Egypt.

Again, Israel shares these perspectives. The absence of American leadership may well be the key factor in causing Israel and the Gulf states to draw closer.

On the face of it, any alliance between Jewish Israel and Salafi Saudi Arabia might appear an absurdity. Israel is a liberal democracy and a Jewish state. Saudi Arabia is a repressive absolute monarchy, based on a particular Salafi Muslim outlook which is deeply anti-Jewish and anti-Christian in nature.

This ideology is not a dead letter for the Saudis. Rather, they invest heavily in spreading their particular rigid form of Islam in the west and elsewhere. Their media and education system are rife with anti-Jewish prejudice.

But a clear distinction is made by the Saudis between the world of ideology/media/culture and the realm of raison d’etat. Hence, there is no reason to think they would not be able to publicly vilify Israel, while maintaining off the radar links with it against more immediate enemies.

In this regard, it is worth remembering the Wikileaks revelation of remarks made in private by Saudi King Abdullah to American General David Petraeus in April, 2008, in which he recommended military action against the Iranian nuclear program. The king referred to Iran as the “head of the snake,” which should be cut off. No similarly venomous remarks on Israel were quoted from the conversation, which took place far from the public eye.

Of course the common interests only go so far. Saudi Arabia supports Salafi Islamist forces in both Syria and Egypt. Saudi money finds its way to Salafi elements among the Palestinians. But the areas of commonality are on issues of cardinal importance to both countries.

The de facto, unseen alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries is one of the most intriguing structures currently emerging amid the whirling chaos of the Middle East.

 

Obama administration is seeking pause on new sanctions against Iran

Recent Media reports revealed that the Obama administration is asking Congress to hold fire on enacting new sanctions against Iran, to give negotiators flexibility in current nuclear talks. 

Even as US officials argue that tough sanctions are what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, the White House and State Department said the administration wanted politicians to wait on new sanctions to give the negotiations time to get traction. 

Some politicians have argued that now is not the time to ease pressure and that pursuing new sanctions will give the US additional leverage in the talks.

But State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it was the consensus of the administration’s national security teams that a pause “would be helpful in terms of providing some flexibility while we see if these negotiations will move forward”.

She said the position was delivered to politicians and congressional aides at a White House meeting on Thursday.

“We have conveyed that any congressional action should be aligned with our negotiating strategy as we move forward. So while we understand that Congress may consider new sanctions, we think this is a time for a pause, as we asked for in the past, to see if negotiations can gain traction,” Ms Psaki said.

She noted that additional sanctions could always be imposed later if the Iranians failed to meet their obligations and she stressed that no existing sanctions were being lifted.

At the White House, national security council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the negotiations would not last indefinitely without progress and movement from Iran, which has long defied international demands to come clean about its nuclear intentions.

“The window for negotiation is not open-ended and if progress isn’t made, there may be a time when more sanctions are, in fact, necessary,” Ms Hayden said. “We have always said that there would be no agreement overnight, and we’ve been clear that this process is going to take some time.”

Bi-partisan pressure in Congress to step up sanctions on Iran has been rising for some time and hit a new high last week after negotiators from the United States, the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany met Iranian officials in Geneva.

The chief US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, told Congress before those talks that the administration would support tougher sanctions on Iran if it did not come to the Geneva talks with “concrete, substantive actions” and a verifiable plan to scale back its nuclear programme.

The United States and other world powers fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. The Islamic republic says its programme is for peaceful energy production and this week’s meetings in part focused on how to scale back its enrichment of material that can be used to generate power or nuclear warhead material.

The Senate Banking Committee is expected to draft new sanctions shortly after the government reopens, largely mirroring a House of Representatives bill that passed overwhelmingly by a 400-20 vote in July and blacklisted Iran’s mining and construction sectors. It also called for all Iranian oil sales to end by 2015.

The Senate’s bill may narrow that timeframe, block international investment in more economic sectors, try to close off Iran’s foreign accounts and tighten Obama’s ability to waive requirements for allies and key trading partners who continue to do business with Iran.

Iran expert Michael Ledeen reports that since president Rouhani entered office repression in Iran has in fact increased.

You probably missed the news that four women were recently stoned to death in the country President Obama loves to flatter by calling it the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Their bodies showed up [1] in the Tehran morgue mid-month.  So far as I have read, no one has claimed the cadavers.

You may also have missed the big roundup of homosexuals and devil-worshippers [2] in Kermanshah Province.  Regime media reported with horror that eight of the gays were married.

And then there was the mass arrests [3] of a hundred Kurds in Tehran.  Why Kurds?  The answer:  there’s a real war on in the region, and the Kurds are in the middle.  Kurds in Turkey are fighting for autonomy against the Erdogan crowd.  Kurds in Iraq have carved out a great degree of independence from Baghdad, and are profitably engaged in cross-border commerce with the Iranian Kurds, who are helping the Turkish Kurds…who are helping the Syrian Kurds, who have established control over significant areas of the north, and who just grabbed one of the two principal border crossings [4] into Iraq.  The Tehran regime is fighting Kurds in the area near Turkey, and the arrests are probably part of that campaign.

Don’t think this region is easily sorted out.  You have to pay attention all the time.

Meanwhile, the regime continues its vicious campaign [5] (some would call it a genocidal war) against the country’s Arabs, the Ahwazis.  Not only are they afflicted with intense air and water pollution (although Ahwaz City is rated the most polluted [6] on earth, it’s part of a national pattern;  Iran holds four of the “top” ten [7] positions in the “world’s-most-polluted-cities” competition), but they are under brutal repression.  It seems to have increased [5] after Rouhani’s election in June.  Indeed, repression is worse all over the country;  150 have been (officially) executed [8] since the Great Moderate won office.

If you only read the MSM headlines, you’d likely believe that the Rouhani administration had greatly eased up on political repression.  There were early reports that eighty political prisoners had been released, but there are no names, and no sightings.  One student activist was temporarily let out on bail, to the great and justified delight of those in the West who campaigned for him, but he can be arrested at any time, and sure doesn’t look like he wants to take on Rouhani.

For those who continue to maintain the fiction of a kinder, gentler Iran, consider that the judicial authorities have declared an end [9] to any “further” releases.

There was also a lot of talk about the possible release of the country’s most famous political prisoners:  Mir Hossein Mousavi, who won the presidential elections four years ago and, along with his firebrand wife and political sidekick Mehdi Karroubi, has been illegally held under house arrest since early 2010, never charged with a crime, and in steadily worsening health.

The judiciary made it clear that the ban on the release of political prisoners includes the Mousavis and Karroubi:

In a press conference yesterday, the Iranian judiciary’s spokesperson, Mohsen Ejei, announced that more political prisoners would not be released on the upcoming religious holidays and said that former President Mohammad Khatami’s travel ban is still in place.

Based on statements by the intelligence and justice ministers, Iranian media had expected the release of some high profile political prisoners, particularly those arrested after the 2009 election protests, especially 2009 presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi, Mir Hussein Moussavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who have been under house arrest without charge since February 2011. Ejei, however, denied these claims.

Mousavi’s two daughters visited recently, and you can judge from the first-hand account [10] of one of the women whether the new leadership is improving human rights in Iran.  They were held for hours in a guard house, and searched.  At a certain point, they were ordered by one of the female guards to remove all their clothes, underwear and all.

To try and describe her treatment of us defies basic human decency. After refusing to take off our underclothes, she attacked us and smacked both my sister Zahra and myself in the ear with a great deal of force.  As I was trying to grab her hand to keep her from attacking us any further, she stopped acting like a human being and bit my entire wrist like a wild animal.

The post includes a photograph of the bite marks.

In short, it’s ugly business as usual, and if there is any change in the regime’s treatment of its own citizens, it’s worse than before.  Indeed, in some areas, any pretense of judicial propriety has been summarily dismissed.  A couple of days ago, there was an attack against Iranian soldiers in Balochistan–14 killed–and 16 suspects were simply rounded up and hanged [11].

What, if anything, does this have to do with the regime’s oft-stated winks and leers, promising a “new” relationship with the West, especially with the United States?  You might wonder if the increased repression is being imposed in the anticipation of a deal, and the regime leaders want to make sure that their many domestic opponents aren’t tempted to rise up against a regime that has shown weakness in its dealings with the West.

That’s possible, but not likely.  It flies in the face of what we know about the regime leaders’ reading of Obama.  They don’t think they have anything to fear from him, and they expect he will accept a deal favorable to them.  They expect an immediate easing of sanctions, “in exchange” for promises of good Iranian behavior in the future.  They will have been reassured at the recent spectacle of the White House asking Congress not to vote any new sanctions.  This demonstrates a lack of understanding, since a vigorous Congress enables our negotiators to tell the Iranians “you’d better get serious and shut down the nuclear program, or these crazy people will just pile on.”

Instead, the Iranians are playing that card, telling us “you’d better get serious and give something tangible to Rouhani, or the crazy hard-liners will make everything more dangerous.”

There’s a difference between us, after all.  Obama wants a deal.  The Iranians want us dead or dominated.  They want to treat us the same way they treat their own.


 The Israel Project and The Middle East Forum contributed to this report